It was quite possible for the viewer to see actual favelas in their natural setting during Art Basel, too. Everyday during the art fair, thousands of art patrons taking the most direct route from the Miami Beach Convention Center to the art fairs of Miami via the Julia Tuttle Causeway drove past a sprawling tent city on the shores of Biscayne Bay just as you enter Miami. After leaving the SushiSamba show, I decided to pull over on the side of the road and check it out.
I counted 12 tents, seven cars, and a sturdy, and a handful of homemade wooden shacks arranged under palm trees along the shore. A long extension cord ran out of a tent toward a generator that sat in a clearing. At the end of the path, there was a café table with chairs around it, set up in the shade about six feet from shore, where I met Luis and Antonio. They told me there were about 100 men in the camp — almost all registered sex offenders who were unable to live anywhere else in Miami because of a strict new law prohibiting sex offenders from living within 2,500 feet of a school. In its fourth or fifth year, the camp has quasi-official government sanction — men are paroled out of prison directly to the camp and some even list "123 Julia Tuttle Causeway" as their address on their driver's licenses. There was no water source or toilets, though the city came by once a month to pick up the collected garbage residents neatly stacked in bags by the causeway.
I did some mental calculation: the camp was certainly within 2,500 feet of SushiSamba's fake shantytown. As I drove off, I say the camp in the rearview mirror, dwarfed by the silhouettes of new and half-empty condos in the distance, and I thought about another thing Robins had said about Miami: "It's America's city of the future."
By Saturday, Dec. 5, the last gala night of Art Basel, it was clear that sales had rebounded from the previous year and that the art world was surviving the global economic collapse. Perhaps fittingly, the blue chip sale of the fair was Andy Warhol's iconic screen print of that old cultural revolutionary, Mao, for $2.2 million by Van De Weghe Gallery. The message of the fair was clear: the market can absorb anything. It will prevail.
This same aura of indestructibility makes Art Basel seem impervious to cultural critique as well, though every year some artists still try. This year's most notable attempt was "Littlest Sister," an exhibit at Spinello Gallery. Modeled after the layout of the convention center floor, it turned the tiny Wynwood gallery into a series of booths, using Art Basel Miami Beach's official gray-and-pink color scheme. Pieces in this "sister" fair, like Pachi Giustinian's amusing Valve, poked fun at Art Basel or the art world itself. Valve was simply a compressor air-hose nozzle sticking out of the gallery wall — perfect for blowing up balloons of art fair hype. The enervating Art Forum Accident 2005 by Kristofer Paetau demonstrated the difficulty, though, of taking on the hot air of the large art fairs. The video depicted Paetau making himself projectile vomit on the floor of the 2005 Art Forum Fair in Berlin, among the world's foremost galleries. The movement of the art dealers around Paetau freezes — but just for seconds. By the time one of them has led him to a chair and covered the puke with a couple sheets of paper, his action has been completely forgotten. The film ends with Paetau dry heaving, completely ignored by eager art buyers.